by Lynn Nottage

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Ruined Summary

Ruined is a Pulitzer Prize–winning play by Lynn Nottage that takes place in the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo.

  • Sophie and Salima, women who have survived being raped by soldiers, are brought by Christian, a traveling salesman, to work at Mama Nadi's bar and brothel.
  • Sophie, Salima, and Josephine, another of Mama's employees, entertain customers who include soldiers from both sides of the civil war.
  • Salima dies when Commander Osembenga raids the bar in search of a rebel leader, Kisembe.
  • Mama confesses to Christian that, like Sophie, she is "ruined" (has been mutilated by repeated rapes); the two tenderly dance together.


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Act 1

Mama Nadi, who owns a bar and brothel in the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo, discusses an order with Christian, a traveling salesman. Christian brings in two young women, Salima and Sophie, for Mama to purchase as employees. Mama insists that she only wishes to purchase one woman, but Christian convinces her to take both when he gives her chocolate and tells her about their backgrounds. Salima has been rescued from rebel soldiers who raped her repeatedly for five months; Sophie has also been raped and has suffered mutilation to her genitals, becoming “ruined.” Sympathetic to her pain, Mama gives Sophie chocolate and alcohol.

A month later, Sophie sings to entertain the rebel soldiers at the bar. After one drunken soldier tries to purchase her with a piece of ore he took from a miner, Sophie is unnerved. Mama intervenes, accepting the ore as payment for Salima. She shows Mr. Harari, a diamond merchant, the raw diamond she keeps in a lockbox; he confirms that the gem is valuable. Mama tells Mr. Harari the story of how her father was tricked by a white man into losing his farm: the man had a piece of paper stating that he owned the farm and that her family had to leave.

In the women’s living quarters, Salima angrily complains about a soldier who bragged about killing miners and worries that one of the miners could have been her brother. She misses her family but cannot return home; her village cast her out after she was raped. She especially misses her baby, Beatrice. Salima compares Sophie to a bird who could fly away if she chose and tells her she is fortunate that she does not have to sleep with the customers. Sophie explains that although she sings beautifully for the patrons, she is always in pain.

Salima reveals she is pregnant, a secret she does not want Mama to know. Sophie shows her money she has been secretly saving, promising to take Salima with her to Bunia when she has saved enough.

Josephine enters and accuses Salima of stealing her food and her fashion magazine, mocking her for not knowing how to read. Salima becomes angry when Josephine insults her family. When Sophie defends Salima, Josephine lashes out by reminding her that they live in a brothel and mocks her as worthless because so many men have used her. Josephine angrily describes her own rape by soldiers; no one helped her even though her father was the village chief. She sneers that if she is not special, neither is Sophie.

Later, Christian reports the disappearance of Pastor Robbins, a white missionary who is rumored to have been helping rebel soldiers. Christian is concerned about the growing tension between the rebels and government soldiers over controlling the mining area and tries unsuccessfully to convince Mama to leave with him.

Commander Osembenga, a government military leader, strides into the bar, and Mama wins him over by standing up to him. Osembenga warns her that Kisembe, the rebel leader, is dangerous and that they shouldn’t serve him. Osembenga claims he wants democracy for the people, while Kisembe only wants to use them for his own profit. Meanwhile, Mama sees Sophie hide money in her shirt.

Christian catches the commander’s attention when he demands a government soldier thank him for giving him a cigarette. Osembenga buys Christian a drink, which Christian—a recovering alcoholic—attempts to refuse. To keep the peace, Mama convinces him to drink.

In the morning, Mama reclaims her lost cash from Sophie. Angry at the girl’s theft, she threatens to put Sophie...

(This entire section contains 1446 words.)

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on the street. Sophie reveals that she has been saving for an operation to repair the physical damage that has been done to her.

Christian returns, terrified by the news that Pastor Robbins has been found brutally murdered. He believes it’s not safe for them to stay in the area, but Mama again refuses to leave with him.

Two soldiers, Fortune and Simon, enter the bar, looking for Salima. Fortune claims to be Salima’s husband. Mama tells him that Salima is not there and suggests that his wife may be dead. Fortune is enraged, and when he overturns a table, Mama and Christian are ready to defend the bar. The soldiers leave, with Fortune promising to be back for Salima.

Act 2

Fortune stands guard outside the bar, refusing to leave until he sees Salima. Sophie urges Salima to speak to Fortune, but Mama does not trust him and says that Fortune will not love Salima once he hears about her profession. She reminds Salima of Fortune’s prior reaction to her kidnapping and rape, and her entire village’s hatred of her.

When Mama leaves the room, Salima tells Sophie about the horrors she underwent at the hands of the soldiers: they attacked her and killed her baby, Beatrice, then kidnapped Salima and kept her tied to a tree for five months, raping her repeatedly. When Salima returned to her village, she was shamed and shunned by her husband and family. Salima cannot forgive Fortune for not standing up for her, and she worries about his reaction when he discovers that she is pregnant by one of the soldiers. Sophie assures Salima that she did not deserve such horrific treatment.

Night falls, and Fortune continues to stand guard in the rain, despite Simon’s pleas for him to give up.

Christian returns to the bar, and Mama stops him from drunkenly criticizing Osembenga and the government soldiers, since she has customers from both sides of the war. Christian warns her that she will have to take sides one day. Mama, however, intends her business to remain open to everyone.

Kisembe enters and notices that there are few customers at Mama’s. He blames Osembenga for driving everyone away and promises revenge. His violent rant makes everyone uneasy, and they are grateful when he exits the bar.

Osembenga enters next, claiming that Kisembe attacked a hospital and killed patients. He vows to stop Kisembe’s militia.

Osembenga seizes Sophie and, when she struggles, announces the soldiers will bring her to the back room to “teach her a lesson.” Sophie spits on his shoes, shouting that she is already dead. Osembenga is shocked, and Mama steps in to placate him; she takes him to the back room and convinces him to give Sophie another chance. She then instructs Sophie to go to the back room and make the commander happy.

Mama believes her business has been jeopardized by Sophie’s uncooperative attitude. Christian comments that her use of the word “business” sounds “vulgar.” Mama calls him a drunk and tells him not to judge her, describing how she built her business and her identity from nothing. Christian storms out with no intention of ever returning.

Later, outside the bar, Fortune informs Osembenga that Kisembe was at Mama’s and that she is hiding Salima from him.

At dawn, Mr. Harari nervously discusses the war with Mama, complaining that he does not know whom to befriend. He urges her to leave, saying that a good businessperson quits when it’s time. Mama ignores his advice but asks that he take Sophie to Bunia for the operation she needs, giving him the raw diamond to pay the doctor. He agrees, but after Mama leaves the room to call Sophie, he is compelled to flee when gunfire sounds and an aid worker tells him they are in immediate danger.

Osembenga, Fortune, and Simon storm the bar with a group of government soldiers. Mama, Sophie, and Josephine are thrown to the floor while the soldiers rob Mama’s lockbox. Osembenga demands to know where Kisembe is, and when Mama tells him she doesn’t know, the commander instructs a soldier to rape Josephine. Before the soldier can do so, Salima enters the room; she is bleeding and screams for everyone to stop fighting. Although Mama and Fortune try to help her, she dies after telling the soldiers, “You will not fight your battles on my body anymore.”

Some time later, Christian returns. He is sober, well-dressed, and determined to win over Mama. She is afraid that if they were to pursue a relationship, it would be doomed to fail. He loves her but says he is willing to leave if she truly doesn't wish to be with him. As he turns to go, Mama confesses that she is “ruined.” Christian apologizes for what men have done to Mama and asserts that he can do better. He takes her in his arms, and as Sophie and Josephine look on, Christian and Mama begin to dance together.


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